It's Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Awareness Month!! I want to start by saying that my teenager that will be discussed in this blog gave me permission to post this stating, "It never bothers me if people know about my ADHD."
Background-I had my son at 18 and was a single mom the first few years of his life until I met my husband. That's another blog for another day BUT I share that information to showcase the unique relationship I have with my oldest. While I was in school studying to become an SLP, I was also getting notes from his daycare discussing his running off, fighting the fact that he was always in the "red pocket", and adamantly denying that he could possibly have ADHD. It took several years of recognizing his unique sensory needs and differences in hitting developmentally milestones before I entertained the idea that he could have ADHD. The fear of the stigma ruled until I could no longer deny his neurodiversity.
He's now fifteen and at an age where he can start advocating for his neurological needs along with his medical team. He has great support in school, he's an amazing runner, and he has the most unique brain and sweet heart.
This journey from ADHD diagnosis to management to embracement truly shaped who I am as a Speech-Language Pathologist.
Here's some things I now know:
Comprehension Does Not Include Whole-Body Listening
I know I've discussed this in other blogs, but I continuously advocate for removal of whole-body listening goals/expectations as a mother to a child of ADHD and as an SLP. My son listens better not making eye contact and usually is tapping on something or moving his feet. When redirected and asked to make eye contact, he focusses so much on the eye contact that he doesn't hear any of the message.
The idea of whole-body listening is an unrealistic concept for many clients and I now focus on advocating for how my client/student best listens AND teaching them to advocate for themselves.
Many Parents Are Unaware Of School Resources
I am one of these parents and I work with schools! I can't tell you how many times I stated, "Oh, he won't qualify for any services" thinking specifically of an IEP. However, with his medical diagnosis and noted feedback from teachers, he was able to qualify for supports such as extended test times, preferential seating, etc under his 504 Plan. This 504 Plan has become huge asset as his curriculum has advanced.
What this means to me as a provider: if I get a referral for language and the student doesn't qualify, I often bounce it back to the counselor and/or process coordinator to discuss 504 Plans eligibility.
My Sessions Can Look Differently And Don't Have To Be Seated
I believe the largest change I have experienced as a provider having a child with ADHD, is implementing sessions that can be unique and don't involve sitting at a table. I've embraced "Dance and Freeze", on the floor sessions, kinesthetic activities, and movement with fidget spinners as a routine a part of the therapy space I create (even with teletherapy). I know through our journey that many children require some kinesthetic output to best attend.
Embracing Having a Neurodivergent Child Takes Time
I applaud the neurodiversity movement and taking the outlook of "brain differences" mindset over "disordered". With that said, I would be completely dishonest if I said that I didn't grieve this diagnosis as a parent. It doesn't mean that I didn't see his unique brain--it meant that I was grieving that unique brain functioning in a neurotypical world.
As a provider, I've seen parents present grief in many different ways--anger, blaming, bargaining, extreme sadness, frustration, denial--and I've learned not to judge. A grieving parent doesn't mean they won't come to fully embrace neurodiversity and I've learned not to try and rush or shame the grieving process.
I Can't Judge Medical Decisions
Here's the deal--half of 8th grade my son was not medically managed because of weight loss. He had grown and so his current medicine was no longer effective BUT we couldn't increase it because his weight. I'm sure many teachers formed opinions about his medical management BUT we really were at a cross roads.
As a provider with a child with ADHD, I know that I cannot judge decisions about medication. Many parents/guardians want to pursue alternative treatment, often neurologists take a good amount of time to get into, or there may be physiological reasons why medication wasn't chosen at that time. It's not my place to judge or give lesser treatment because I'm waiting for the medication adjustment.
Advocates Are Needed
I wish I didn't have these stories, but I do: I've been told my son just needs discipline, I've been told that ADHD is a symptom of ODD and isn't a primary diagnosis (this was a medical [professional), I've been asked if I could remove him from medication so "he can try", I've been shamed for deciding medicine, I've been shamed for not medicating earlier--the list that my son and I have both heard is quite long.
I've seen Facebook posts stating that " a belt" would be a solution. I've seen horribly inaccurate and stigmatizing things on all forms of social media. I feel confident saying most parents of children with ADHD and most adults with ADHD have been exposed to statements that are discriminatory, shaming, and inaccurate.
Although it's improving, there remains a stigma and misunderstanding of ADHD. There is never too much advocacy from us as providers. I know as a provider that I cannot advocate enough for my student/client learning needs and neurodivergent strengths.
As my son says when he advocates for himself, "My ADHD is harmless." I absolutely love his brain and I love how it shaped who I am as a provider. May this ADHD Awareness Month be full of advocacy and celebration of those you love with ADHD.